In the Armed Forces, she would find:
LADY OFFICER is not gender equivalent for GENTLEMAN OFFICER
WOMAN OFFICER is the gender equivalent of GENTLEMAN OFFICER
LADY= only Wives of Gentlemen Officers
1. AT OFFICERS’ TRAINING ACADEMIES. During the pre-commissioning training at Air Force Academy(AFA) Dundigal, Hyderabad; the cadets are given lectures on ethics, social customs and etiquette in IAF. This is where my dilemma about the fair sex’s actual identity started. “One quality which differentiates officers from all the others is : chivalry.” said one of the instructor. “In case there is a lady looking for a seat at a social gathering, while you are seated, get up and offer her the seat. That is an example of chivalry.” he said. ” Sir, what if it is my woman course mate?” the Keen Kumars of the batch trying hard to prove their alertness asked.” She is an officer,she will find one herself.” he immediately dismissed the query.
To add to the discomfort was the response of young Airmen cadets under training. My duties as an officer on instructional duties encompassed sharing physical spaces with them at close proximity. I was supposed to supervise them the whole day:on the parade ground, in the classrooms, dining halls and in their billets. It was unimaginable for the curious minds and bodies of the typical Indian men coming from mostly rural parts of the country. During Night Roll calls and checks one could sense the breath of Peeping Toms at the windows/ tents. And reporting such kind of incidents would definitely mean giving people a chance for further character assassination and denial of important assignments.
Very few women officers, even though of adequate seniority got the opportunities of staying on site throughout a Field Craft Training Camp, even though being the Camp Commandants. All woman officers were strictly sent back at dawn and barred from taking part in night training activities in the camps.
3. While we were trying to prove our mettle, a big blow was the way the dismissal of Flying Officer Anjali Gupta was handled by the IAF authorities and the media. As a woman officer needs to be escorted by another woman officer, all the woman officers of the command in which she was posted were detailed for escort duties for her trial. Free time during the trial made me realise how the good and bad eggs are all the products of the system. Being in minority a woman officer could demand and get all the unwanted attention and grow in service or pay the price.
For a long time during and after the trial we heard Commanding Officers telling all gentlemen officers to keep the doors of their offices open whenever a woman officer walked in to have a word with them. ” I just want you to avoid Tamasha!” they would say. Commanders started avoiding the confrontation at all and took the safe route out. In stations with a few woman officers, Commanders preferred to entrust them with staff officer duties with their wives in order to avoid any unnecessary confrontations. As a result, women officers were found working as Honorary Joint Secretaries/ Officer in charge Air Force Wives Welfare Organisations (AFWWA).
But the one gentleman cadet, whose male ego was hurt badly, he followed me to my office and accused me of Man-handling him and using capital punishment in front of all everyone. He followed it with an written complaint against me as a result of which I faced an in-house inquiry. Although my superiors supported me throughout the trial, what shocked us was the inter- branch and faculty rivalry which started amongst officers when the cadet was proven guilty and I was acquitted of all charges. Gentlemen officers nearly boycotted me and my section commander in professional meetings and get togethers.
Working Environment of Women Officers in Indian Armed Forces
1. The induction of women officers in Indian Army started with the grant of Short Service Commission (SSC) for 5 years in the year 1992. The first batch of 03 women fighter pilots in IAF was commissioned in 2016. For many women officers commissioned in non-combat branches, it was the result of a long legal battle won in the Supreme Court and High Courts of India that they were allowed to serve permanent commission(20 years). This once again raised doubts about the real reason behind India’s decision to induct women officers. Was it based on mere populist considerations? Unfortunately, the incidents happening at field stations and in the offices of policy makers corroborate this fact.
5. Other Women Officers and their Moral Policing :With increase in number of women officers, one finds many women officers in a field unit/station. In such stations, senior women officers are supposed to play the BIG MOMMY role for the young ones, irrespective of their separate departments. The gentlemen officers would bring the flaws/ shortfalls of junior women officers to the notice of the senior most women officer, who then would take the job of moral policing on their shoulders. As a result, you would find junior officers getting scolded for their social gaffes: dressing sense, late night outings, social courtesies and so on in public gatherings. In such cases, the senior officers tend to forget that the process of growing up is the same for all of us. Every carefree, healthy young man or woman had enjoyed the attention and company of the the opposite sex in their youth.
Gender at play in offences against women officers/ dismissals from service: Although the strict disciplinary values ingrained amongst the officers win over everything else but it isn’t always a cake walk for women officers. Past history has shown that women officers are capable of commanding respect from their subordinates as well as peer group. But now that the number of women officers is slowly increasing, the number of cases related to insubordination as well as indiscipline will be on the rise. While the officers undergoing trials for using corrupt practices such as accepting bribes, making fraudulent enrollments, conducting false encounters, showing favouritism in promotions and the worst, treason do not get so much media attention as the denial of kisses by a junior women officer do get.
Gender is again prominent as the reason for most of the reported cases of women defaulters. Gentlemen officers associate the traits that are chauvinistically associated by men for women in society and piled them upon the lady officers as well. The parameters for judging the woman officers’ performance still remains her character. The whereabouts of woman officers after working hours decide whether the officer is disciplined and professional rather than her performance in the offices. While the gentlemen officers flouting the rules and good old order of the forces keep doing so in various ways without inviting any attention from the higher formations and/or the media, the women officers’ indiscipline are blown out of proportion and made to look as cases of severe attitudinal deficiencies and indiscipline. This can be proved by looking at the number and reasons of controversial cases made public by the armed forces and the media against women officers. In maximum cases the charges do not relate to professional lapses or commission/omission of duties. Let me share a few those made the headlines:
1. The first case of dismissal from service on grounds of indiscipline was that of Flying Officer Anjali Gupta of IAF in 2005. She had charged her superior of making sexual remarks at her.
2. Captain Poonam Kaur of Indian Army was awarded dismissal from service for having illicit relationship with a driver in the battalion. She alleged her senior male officers of sexual, mental and physical harassment.
3. Lt Sushmita Chakravarty committed suicide in 2006 as she was under depression over her charter of duties which included arranging and attending late night parties.
4. Captain Neha Rawat alleged misconduct against the GOC of her division who was dismissed from service in 2008.
5. Major Dimple Singla faced a court martial for allegedly demanding bribes during the trails by a military court of which she was a member.
Looking at the data one would definitely feel that all is not right about the discipline, train ability and integrity of women officers.But these deductions will be based on the cases which have been reported. We really don’t know what happened in those cases which never came to light. Truth is more fictional than reality, at times.
But the most controversial type still remains to be the one marriage wherein a woman officer married an Airman of non-commissioned ranks. The man is not an officer and with great difficulty he is allowed inside the officers’ mess and the residential quarters. He might be a rich Halwai’s( Sweets vendor) son, but he is not welcome here. The poor lady pays a harsh price for being an obedient daughter. Although many others in her shoes have opted to quit and keep the drama out of their life, this one dares to face the situation courageously. And is it fair to judge her professionally on the basis of a choice made by her parents?
The fair sex in uniform has not only the gentleman in uniform to worry about but also their better halves and other woman officers. In recent times, the office politics continues at home as the wife becomes the first lady (wife) of the station.The other wives are surprised to see this young woman in uniform guiding them and being capable of threatening her and her husband’s existence. So the social spaces too start to become unpleasant at times.
Shortfalls in Policies governing Existence of Women Officers in Forces: I felt the organisation definitely needed to do something more to keep this section of the family happy and more productive. Some points which made me to arrive at this decision:
not open for women. Also there are no women inducted in ranks other than Officers. As a result, the male counterparts working as subordinates are not trained to handle women ordering them to do things. The racial subconscious patriarchal male attitude of dominating the fair sex always comes in between trusting and following the orders given by a woman officer.
The same patriarchal feelings get aggravated in case of the gentlemen cadets and commanders passing out of National Defense Academy as they don’t find women counterparts in their Alma mater. You don’t need to imagine the way a gentleman cadet from NDA who hasn’t seen a woman in his college at the peak of his puberty for 3 years will treat a woman batch mate.There are only two kinds of feelings which women generate in such officers: sexual admiration and physical protection. Gender equality or neutrality do not figure any where in such cases.That is also one of the reasons the commanders deal differently with the women officers in their units.
Basic infrastructure such as separate toilets, changing rooms, crew rest rooms are not available at field units. Some major steps have been although taken in recent times.
Some more examples to illustrate this:
Prior to the Supreme Court judgement,women officers were considered as a short term threat by the Gentlemen officers. Now they are much antagonised as suddenly women officers are also fighting with them for promotions to higher posts. More than healthy competition with their peers, there is a feeling of dominating/ protecting the fair sex in uniform.
After 70 years of Independence the Indian society has accepted women scientists,politicians,wrestlers,boxers and cricketers; but the doubt about the performance of women in uniform still remains. Late night parties, graveyard shifts and overseas assignments are no more a taboo for Indian women in civil streets. In the times of global terrorism where the Naxalite/ Maoist/terrorist organisations have also started training women to lead their combat assignments,why is the Military Leadership of India so hell bend on the incompetence of women in combatant roles?
The general argument made by most of the military commanders in front of media / human rights commissions is: Its not at all about woman’s rights/ equality of gender. It is about combat effectiveness, war readiness and national security. Imagine what would happen if a fragile woman pilot lands into enemy territories!
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